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Reading to Babies and Young Children

By Maxine Roeper Cohen, M.S.

One perfect way to connect with a baby or young child is to sit down and read a book together. Take away the technology; get comfortable together in a roomy chair or on a cushiony sofa, and let the magic begin!


Did you know that early in the first year of life, a baby’s brain doubles in size? Positive experiences with a caregiver (be it a parent, other relative, or caregiver) help to stimulate development of that brain. With the simple act of reading, you are helping the various parts of the infant’s brain to create connections. The cerebellum at the base of the child’s skull supports skill refinement. Memory and creativity areas of the brain, as well as the part that extracts meaning from language, are all involved and active while the adult is reading. Add to this mixture the very young child listening to a pleasant voice, sitting together in a warm and loving manner, and gazing at beautiful illustrations in the book, and you have the ideal set-up for engaging that baby’s deep cognitive (learning) networks.


By age two, synapses within the brain’s neural network are forming for language and higher cognitive processes. And by age five, due to early experiences and the firing of neurons they produce, the child’s brain has a foundation for future thought and imagination processes.


With this science in mind, let’s get back to that duo of adult and baby, sitting together. The adult’s soothing and vibrant voice attracts and holds the young child’s attention. The book itself provides visual stimuli to pique the child’s mind. The young child can relax and enjoy, making sense of the story while being physically and emotionally supported by the adult. In fact, a 2014 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics stated that reading aloud strengthens the neural connections that will enable that child to process more difficult and complex stories as the child gets older. Most interestingly, it is the interaction of a child and adult both looking at the book together that increases the child’s capacity to understand, ask questions eventually, remember details, and continue to pay attention. These are all aspects of executive function skills that the child needs to develop for school and a successful future in life. The child focuses on the book, the adult is warm and patient, and there is a delightful reciprocity occurring. This intense engagement fosters speech development and emotional regulation as well. An early head start in reading aids vocalizations as the child seeks to imitate the adult. The young child can relax and make sense of what he is hearing and seeing. Deeper cognitive function of the brain results.


What better outcome is there than spending such quality time, enjoying each other, stimulating brain development, and creating emotional bonds? So, the next time you are tempted to offer a young child a screen device, remember the screen (television, cell phone or tablet) has no power of teaching a young child who doesn’t have abstract reasoning. It is you, and the human connection and interaction occurring, that stimulate the child’s brilliantly developing brain. Powerful stuff, isn’t it?!


Maxine Roeper Cohen is a Parent Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at



Preventing Choking in Young Children

By Dinah Torres Castro

There are many things parents and caregivers can do to prevent young children from choking while eating. The best thing anyone can do is to simply be there and be mindful of what the child is doing as he or she eats. It is also recommended that the adults make sure that mealtimes are calm. If mealtimes take place when there is too much excitement or too many disruptions, it can be difficult to keep your little ones from wanting to get up, run off, and play. Sometimes young children may not pay attention to the food in their mouths, forgetting to chew it completely before swallowing. We recommend following these simple precautions whenever your little ones are eating:

  • Make sure children sit down to eat. Children should never run, walk, play, or lie down with food in their mouths.
  • Model how to eat food by taking small bites and chewing thoroughly before swallowing.
  • Never leave children alone while they are eating.
  • Before sitting down to eat, make sure the food your child is eating has been cooked to the appropriate texture, and avoid feeding certain foods that can cause choking.
  • If you have a fast eater, help him or her learn to slow down while eating.
  • Remind children to chew and swallow their food before speaking.
  • Avoid presenting food that is round, hard, small, firm, thick, sticky, smooth, slippery, or cut into large chunks. Food should be cut into small pieces. For example, cut food into ¼ inch pieces for toddlers and ½ inch pieces for preschoolers.
  • Keep the following foods away from children younger than 4 years:

hot dogs/sausages    nuts and seeds            chunks of raw vegetables

chunks of meat         whole grape                 hard or stick candy

popcorn                   chunks of peanut butter  caramels

For more information on choking prevention and other objects that can be dangerous to young children, check out these resources:

Healthy’s Choking Prevention

NYS Department of Health’s Choking Prevention for Children

Dinah Castro is a Bilingual Family Well-Being Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 351 or at

Virtual Playdates: How technology is changing the face of young friends

By Cara Weiner Sultan, MSW

Technology has revolutionized the experience of childhood these days. Screen time is a hotly debated topic, but can screens be used to promote social interactions when face to face interactions are not possible? What about using technology to enhance and broaden your child’s socialization skills? Nothing should ever replace real social interactions, but this new way to use screen time might be something that becomes increasingly relevant in years to come.

Here are some things to consider about playdates in a digital world:

The playdate should be a close approximation to what would occur in a person to person interaction, just moved to an online platform such as FaceTime, Google meets, Zoom or another application where children can see each other on a screen. Playing video games in a virtual world would not have the same social benefit as a back and forth conversation. Texting or chatting by typing would also not be ideal. The whole idea is using screens to foster social connection and not create a passive experience.

Setting ground rules, monitoring time spent in the playdate, and providing structure and ideas on how to use the time might be useful. Some ideas include bingo, charades, cooking demonstrations, chess/checkers, dance parties, arts and crafts, scavenger hunts, and show and tell. If children are unable to play independently, parents may also participate and supervise the playdate with their child. Caregiver participation may provide additional social benefits through modeling connection during the interaction, not staring blankly at a screen.

What might be some of the possible benefits of these experiences?

Emotional/physical safety. Oftentimes kids may feel emotionally and physically safer in their home environment versus having to go to another child’s home. A child may also feel less overwhelmed and enjoy having control over their physical space and personal belongings. Kids with difficulty separating from caregivers may also benefit from the safety net offered by this experience.

Convenience. Parents face a deluge of work/family responsibilities. This requires less planning and can be done without leaving the house.

Responsible internet use. Teaching children to use the internet in a productive and structured way can be a useful skill for their future. This generation of youth will spend an inordinate amount of time online. Teaching them that it can be done safely and within limits provides a good foundation.

Enhance connections. During times of extended absences, virtual get-togethers can keep relationships sustained between children, allowing for a smoother transition when they return to face to face interaction. Virtual playdates create the opportunity for sharing and connecting when real life interaction may not be possible.

Digital playdates should never replace real face to face interactions between children, but may be used as a supplement in certain situations, such as if friends are sick, move away, or there is a need for extended social distancing. Screen time should never take the place of other activities such as family time, outdoor time, exercise, and being unplugged. However, if used with appropriate guidance and in moderation, the digital world may offer children an additional outlet for play.

Cara Weiner Sultan is a Parent Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program.  She can be reached at

Understanding Teens and their Social Needs during the Corona Virus

By Maxine Roeper Cohen, M.S.

Social isolation is hard for all of us. We are social beings, and human interaction brings us pleasure and promotes our sense of health and well-being. During this time of Covid-19, many families are quarantined together. This is helpful for those who enjoy harmonious relationships. For teen-aged children, however, being separated from friends (their peers) is difficult. For very socially oriented teens, it can be devastating. This can be difficult for their parents to understand since they see their teens communicating with their friends primarily with technology. Prior to the pandemic, the average teen spent about nine hours per day socializing on technology. So, what are they missing now?

Teens are in the period of social development where they are striving to become independent. Breaking away from parental control and influence is a means to accomplishing this. Their friends become more important influencers, and they hunger for peer group acceptance. Technology such as texting, Facebook, Instagram, video chatting, etc. satisfies part of their social needs. It’s vital that they also see other teens in person. Screens only provide a two-dimensional outlook, and teens miss non-verbal and body language cues. They crave in-person closeness while being told by parents that they cannot see friends in this manner. During this critical stage of development, teens are trying to break away and they sometimes defy parental advice. They don’t want to be told what to do. They can’t spend time with their friends, so this makes them crave time with peers even more. It is most frustrating for all family members.

Parents can help their teens to socialize and, at the same time, remain healthy and safe. One way is by encouraging the use of technology in a more personalized fashion such as joining with friends in online games, exercise classes, or dance parties. These online events promote more meaningful conversations rather than just idle chatter. Also, teens can create a weekly schedule of checking in by phone with friends and classmates so that they don’t feel awkward after long absences with no communication. Finally, since the weather is warm, perhaps parents can allow their teens to invite a few friends to their backyard where they can wear masks and maintain social distance, but still socialize in person. In these ways, teens can continue to satisfy their social needs, and develop in a positive way despite this most challenging time in their lives.

Maxine Roeper Cohen is a Parent Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at

Different Styles of Parenting

By Kerri Kreh Reda, M.P.H.

You may have heard that there are different styles of parenting. Although there is a time and place for each of them, there is one style that research shows to have better outcomes for children. On one end of the continuum is the Authoritarian style. This style of parenting can be considered “brick wall” parenting. It is known for being very demanding and strict, using punishment, and generally not allowing choice or freedom. Authoritarian parents value obedience, discourage independence, and do not like their authority to be questioned. They also do little nurturing. Children who are raised with this style of parenting do not learn self-regulation or self-discipline, but rather learn they can do as they wish as long as they do not get caught. Brick wall parenting is appropriate when health, safety, and morality issues arise. In these circumstances there should not be any negotiating.

On the other end of the continuum is the Permissive style. This style of parenting can be considered “jellyfish” parenting. It is known for being indulgent. Permissive parents give a lot of freedom without limits. They make few demands, have few if any consequences, do not provide structure, and avoid asserting authority. Permissive parents are very good at nurturing, but do not discipline well. Children raised with this style of parenting often feel insecure and confused as they need guidance. Jellyfish parenting is appropriate under special circumstances such as holidays, birthday celebrations, or when the child is sick or on vacation, as during these times you can relax the rules.

In the middle is the Authoritative style. Research shows that this style of parenting has the best outcomes for children. It can be considered “backbone” parenting. Authoritative parents provide structure with flexibility, much like our spine. Authoritative parents maintain a good balance between warmth and strictness. They have high expectation of their children. They firmly and consistently enforce rules, while also encouraging independence. Backbone parents use choices, consequences, and positive communication and listening to provide guidance and to solve problems. Children who are raised with this style learn self-regulation and tend to do better in school, have better behavior, and use drugs and alcohol less. This style of parenting is where we want to be most of the time.

For more information on parenting styles, click on the link below:

Kerri Kreh Reda, M.P.H., is a Human Development Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 330 or at

Talking to your Kids about Race

By Dinah Torres Castro

Children aren’t born racists – they are taught to be.

With protests over the killing of George Floyd happening in all fifty states, many parents are concerned about how they can talk to their children about the unrest in our nation. We not only need to start these conversations about race and racism, we need to keep these conversations going long after the protestors are gone. When our country is no longer in this state of outrage, we need to make sure all children see black people as equals and not just as victims of oppression. But right now, if you are talking to your kids about the killings and protests, make sure you speak honestly and in an age-appropriate way.

  • You can start having conversations about race as early as preschool age. You should begin by discussing racial differences in a positive light. If a white child asks why another child has brown skin, a parent can take this opportunity to explain what melanin (the pigment in our skin) is, and to talk about how wonderful it is that the world has so many different kinds of people.
  • Older children will be much more aware of what’s going on right now, from overhearing the news, their parents talking, or simply noticing what is going on outside in their neighborhoods. Once you assess what they know, you can have a conversation about racism without being too explicit.
  • With children in elementary school, you should focus on how unfairly black and brown people have been treated throughout American history. Fairness is something all children can understand.
  • If you live someplace where people are actively protesting and your children have observed some destruction, you should reassure your kids that you are there to keep them safe. You can also explain why people are protesting and show them positive images of protests from our history.
  • Allow your children to express their feelings about what you’re discussing as they may be angry, sad, or scared. It’s important to validate how children feel and answer any questions honestly.
  • Parents can let their children know that the important adults in their lives are working really hard to make sure these injustices don’t continue in our city, country and world.
  • Respect your children’s feelings. If talking about race is too upsetting for them, take a break and leave the door open for future conversations.
  • In addition to keeping an open dialogue about racism, raise children who are respectful of all people by including books with black people as central figures in your home library. Children’s literature can be a great way to start difficult conversations. See link below for suggested books.

Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, an attending physician at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, was recently quoted in a NY Times article: “The best advice I can give parents is to be models for the attitudes, behavior and values that they wish to see in their children. It is not enough to talk about racism, you must strive to be anti-racist and fight against racist policies and practices. If you have the privilege, make space, speak up or amplify issues of inequity and injustice. Children see everything.”

For more information, check out the links below:

They’re Not Too Young to Talk About Race:

These Books Can Help You Explain Racism and Protest to Your Kids

10 Tips for Teaching and Talking to Kids About Race:

Raising Race Conscious Children:

Dinah Castro is a Bilingual Family Well-Being Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 351 or at

Overindulgent Parenting – What is “enough” for Preschoolers?

By Nancy Olsen-Harbich, MA

We live in an environment on Long Island that encourages all of us to overindulge. There are shopping opportunities at every turn in the road, plentiful entertainment, arts, and sports activities to choose from, and many service providers for the tasks we can’t seem to find time for – house cleaning, lawn care, car maintenance, etc. Some disposable income is all it takes to slip into a little overindulgence, and Long Islanders are more likely to have this than families in other parts of the country. Those who can afford to (and some who can’t) treat themselves and their children very well. But are we also using the necessary restraint to avoid spoiling our children? If we are able, why not make children’s lives as happy and comfortable as possible?

Research into family life since the 1990’s (Clark & Bredehoft 1998, Kindon 2000) points to some very good reasons to try to stem the tide of entitlement flowing in the direction of our young children. Receiving too much, too soon, in conjunction with what is called “over-nurturing” (doing for children what they could do for themselves) seems to deter young human beings from developing good character traits like perseverance, helpfulness, cooperation, and consideration for others, and seems to encourage self-centered attitudes and behaviors.

Starting to feel uncomfortable yet? We are all guilty of this to some extent, and it is love for our children (a GOOD thing; they can’t have too much of that) that inclines us towards overindulgence and over-nurturing. Here’s some common sense advice from the experts concerning “giving” of possessions, time, and service to your children:

Learn about your child’s developmental stage

What’s reasonable to expect from a child in terms of chores and self-care? What toys and activities help to support the learning they need to do now as opposed to later? How can you tell the difference between normal frustration intolerance and tantrums that become a habitual behavior in order to get what they want? Attend parent education workshops, look for opportunities to be around other families of young children to compare notes, try to read and learn as much as you can about supporting, in healthy ways, your child’s growth and development.

Avoid the “Happiness Trap”

Be willing to say “no” when saying “yes” would not, ultimately, be in your child’s best interest, even if it makes them unhappy at the moment. Sometimes they are very loudly unhappy. Young children haven’t yet learned the boundaries of budgets and time, or the need to weigh one member of the family’s individual needs against the bigger, overreaching goals of the family. It is a parent’s job to set necessary limits. And you’ll be very unhappy if you don’t, ultimately resulting in a negative attitude towards parenting that impacts your children much more seriously than losing out on a new toy.

Empower Preschoolers to “do for themselves”

Even a 3 year old can bring their finished dish to the sink. Look closely at the level of service you provide to your children. Yes, they need our help, but “doing for” constantly sends the message that they are not very competent. Put the paper towels where they can reach them themselves to clean up messes, create organized toy storage areas so that they can put things away in a place they belong. Expecting young children to contribute to the family and their own self-care teaches life skills and builds confidence.

Watch your spending

A small collection of good toys (balls, blocks, trucks, dolls, puppets) gives young children tools for learning and exploring through play. A huge collection of toys (gathered through parents buckling under the pressure of demanding children) can create storage chaos and actually result in poorer quality play and concentration – there’s just too much. In addition, having to wait for a holiday or birthday for a special toy can be good practice in delayed gratification, an important concept to understand in adulthood when you must work towards your own goals.

Keeping the “long view” in mind is challenging when our natural inclination is to want to please our children. A little indulgence, once in awhile, spreads joy in their hearts and ours. But a steady diet of overindulgence is no gift at all.

Nancy Olsen-Harbich is Program Director and a Human Development Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 332 or at

Everything is canceled!

By Cara Weiner Sultan, MSW

Within mere weeks, our entire world has been upended. We have been told to shelter in place and remain at least 6 feet apart from others. Wash hands and wear masks. With these new guidelines for living in place, everything in our world has been canceled, with all “normal” events of daily life are either re-imagined, rescheduled, or moved online. Suddenly calendars worth of events, weddings, parties, vacations, concerts, sporting events, etc. have been wiped clean.

Much has been written over the past few weeks about what losing these shared events or experiences, commonly known as social rituals, does to us individually, our community, and our society as a whole. Rituals may be defined as choreographed events that create a shared experience among people that connect people emotionally. These rituals are special; they go beyond everyday experiences into something that is memorable and meaningful. Rituals mark the passage of time; they can be simple things like Sunday dinners with family or Friday pizza with friends. Rituals mark sacred events and accomplishments, weddings, funerals, religious ceremonies, and graduations. Rituals may also be collective or group experiences, such as the happiness of sports fans to witness their favorite team capture a title.

When everything gets canceled, mental health experts agree these losses are all real and should be acknowledged and even grieved. Losing these rituals can invoke a sense of tremendous sorrow, grief, and isolation. These losses should be discussed, especially with children, who don’t have the life experience to put things in perspective. Allowing yourself to take the time to talk about and put names to the feelings can help you better cope with these missed experiences.

While adults and children alike all face the roller coaster of ups and downs, and look ahead to uncertain opportunities to celebrate rituals, finding ways to look for the silver lining of this crisis can be helpful. After grieving what is missed, refocus on creating new rituals, both online or within your own home. There has never been more time for connecting virtually with old friends, reunions, family dinner time, fort building, movie night, bake offs, and finding charitable ways to help others. Even collective rituals like blasting sirens for healthcare workers at the same time each night may foster connections. Refocus on things in your life that you do have, not things that you are missing. Take the time to notice new experiences that build memories. Supporting others and facing these challenges will help to build strength both within ourselves and our children. As a society, we must learn to refocus and build resiliency during these life changing times.

Cara Weiner Sultan is a Parent Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program.  She can be reached at

Overloaded with Covid-19 News?

by Erica Posniak, MD

Breaking News! This familiar and inviting alert flashes across our televisions, smart phones and computers 24 hours a day. It calls us and it’s difficult to resist. After all, it might be telling us there is new information we need to know in order to survive. Especially during a pandemic, we need to be informed, and having updated, current information can make us feel more in control. The so called Breaking News, however, is often an endless rehash of the same negative information.

Mindfulness teaches us that what you bring your attention to and what you take in determines how you feel. Taking in disturbing news about Covid-19 many times a day can cause us to experience heightened stress, fear, worry and anxiety and can even result in sleepless nights. Often functioning on automatic pilot, without thinking we turn to the news on our televisions and devices. While it is important to be informed, constantly turning on the news can become a habit. If you are frequently experiencing an urge to check the news, you are not alone.

What can we do?

Mindfulness has been shown to be effective in changing habits.

Becoming aware of the choices we make is the first step.

The next time you feel an urge to check the news, notice how you are feeling and what sensations are present in your body. Ask yourself, where in my body do I feel the urge? Bring curiosity to the exploration.

Take a cleansing breath and then ask yourself, why do I want to check the news?

After watching or reading the news, notice the physical sensations that are present in your body. Observe your thoughts. Are they calm or racing? What’s present for you?

Notice what emotions you are feeling and if the experience is pleasant.

Ask yourself, was seeing the news nourishing and what did I get from it?

Noticing, with curiosity, the urge to check the news and becoming aware of how the news makes you feel can take you out of automatic pilot so that you can start to change your habit. Sometimes, just by watching it, the urge will pass. Other helpful strategies include limiting your news consumption to once or twice a day, and taking news alerts off your smartphone and laptop. It’s not easy to change a habit, so treat yourself with kindness, congratulate yourself for starting this journey, and approach any attempts at change without self-judgment.

With all the negative news, it can be hard to remember that there is so much more going on in your world. Ask yourself, what else is true in my life in this moment? Looking out the window or going outside and noticing the color of a tree, the sound of rustling leaves, and the appearance of the sky, or bringing your attention to something in your environment that gives you joy, can bring you into a positive state of mind.

Dr. Erica Posniak is a physician focused on wellness who teaches mindfulness and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. She is chairperson of the Family Health and Wellness advisory committee and a member of the Board of Directors of CCE-Suffolk

Beat the Heat During Pregnancy!

By Laura Keiley, RN

Being pregnant is hard work, especially during the hot summer months. Because your body works so hard to protect and nourish your baby, you are more likely to experience negative effects from the heat than someone who isn’t pregnant. Your body is trying hard to cool itself and your unborn baby, and also keep you both healthy. This means that you need to take extra care when you are exposed to very hot conditions.

Here are some tips for staying cool and safe on hot days:

  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated
  • On very hot and humid days, seek shade and air-conditioned areas when possible
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing
  • Avoid exercise outside in very hot and humid weather

If you are exposed to high temperatures and experience the following symptoms, seek medical care:

  • Unusually warm skin
  • Unusual headache
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Temperature over 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Braxton-Hicks, or ‘practice contractions’

If you experience any of the above, move to a cooler area if possible, apply cool, wet cloths to skin, and/or sit in a cool bath until you can receive medical care.

Laura Keiley, RN

Diabetes Educator


Laura Keiley is a Registered Nurse and Diabetes Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at



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